Brauerei Fischerstube / Ueli Bier
Thursday 16th January 2014
It was a dirty evening weather-wise when I approached this brew pub. The rain was continuous and cold, so as the pub didn't open for another ten minutes, I sheltered in a porch way opposite. It was obvious that there were staff moving around inside the pub so I thought; why not wait in their porch and they may let me in? And they very kindly did and I was very grateful.
This is a very important pub and brewery when considered in the overall concept of the revival of small-time beer production in modern times. Its origin was in 1974 when Rheingasse 45, the location of a closed down pub, was purchased by Hans Jakob Nidecker and he set about reopening it. This was to save it from possible demolition, a thought unthinkable now when you look at the beautiful buildings in this street.
During its renovation Roman remains were found in the cellar. As the Roman name for the settlement on the north bank of the Rhine was known as Robur, this name is remembered in the name of one of the beers brewed after they opened the doors.
Back then, Hans Jakob was insistent that he sold Warteck beer from the local brewery around the corner in this district, known as Klein Basel. However the previous tie of the premises was with the Anker brewery of Frenkendorf and it had not expired.
He wasn't going to give in to this and didn't want their beer, so he decided to brew his own, thus paving the way for small breweries in both Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe.
Purely as a matter of interest, the predatory Feldschlössen brewery took over Warteck in 1988 and closed it in 1991, although some of the brands are still brewed by them.
Anker brewery closed in 1976, shortly after the Ueli brewery commenced operation. So the small Ueli brewery outlived them both and was close to celebrating its 40th birthday when I visited.
If there is any confusion, let me state that the pub is named Fischerstube and the brewery located within it is Ueli.
What is the origin of the name of the brewery? Well, my research into this has not been as extensive as I would have liked, but the following is the story as far as I have learnt it. There is a tradition in Klein Basel that goes back to medieval times that involves a wild man (wild maan in the local Schweizerdeutsch dialect).
A ceremony occurs in January every three years and involves the wild man floating down the river Rhine on a raft. He fires a cannon, makes a lot of noise and dances wildly. He then sets foot on land and is chased by the Vogel Gryff throughout Klein Basel. The Vogel Gryff translates as a Griffin, a mythical bird, and is the heraldic symbol of Klein Basel.
The procession goes on all day and the "bird" is accompanied by three drummers and four "Ueli" who are described as fools (harlequins or jesters) who collect money in tins for the needy.
There is much consumption of beer. This tradition is in addition the annual carnival which is also heavily celebrated here and also involves jesters, harlequins and drunken people in fancy dress.
The brewery actually dispensed its first beer on 13th November 1974 and its future success was assured during the 1975 Carnival when it received official recognition and was extremely popular. I vaguely remember visiting in its early years and have since discovered that was in November 1982.
The brewery's early life was relatively uneventful until 1992 when Feldschlössen brewery offered the adjacent building, no. 43, to Fischerstube. It was taken on and is now the Linde Restaurant and it sells the full range of Ueli beers.
In 1998 the brewing equipment, including the copper, needed replacement and a new plant was installed.
The opportunity was taken to make it greener and a heat recovery system was installed that supplies both the Fischerstube and Linde. This is estimated to save around 25% of the heating costs.
After my slightly early arrival, I found myself in a very traditional pub. It is a long narrow room with scrubbed wooden tables towards the front. After a step up there was the continuation of the room towards the brewery itself. This was made up for diners with tablecloths and sparkling wine glasses waiting to be filled.
I was impressed by the brewery, located behind a glass screen, simply because three of the open fermentation vessels had slowly maturing beer in them.
I settled on a stool close to the bar and asked what beers were on offer and this was the choice: Ueli Reverenz Spezial Hell (5.2%) is an unfiltered stronger light beer; Ueli Lager Hell (4.8%) is a standard light beer that is unfiltered; Ueli Robur Dunkel (4.8%) is a dark unfiltered beer; and Ueli Weizen (5.4%), a wheat beer.
I tried three, excepting the wheat beer. The Lager Hell was good, having a bit of a bitter bite. The Reverenz was a complex tasting beer that I also liked, a bit like a Bockbier. Likewise the Robur Dunkel which was not as malty as it could have been, so therefore enjoyed. All of these beers are unpasteurized yet they do have a bottled beer that is. It is Ueli Spezial (5.0%) and it found in supermarkets and grocery shops. It is actually brewed and bottled at the Lasser Brauerei in Lörrach, a few miles away, over the border in Germany.
When visiting the city of Basel you should make time to visit this excellent pub. Should you be changing trains here, as many travellers do, please think about visiting this lovely pub-restaurant? An extra couple of hours are required. Should you consider this, please look at the hours of opening presented below.
Brauerei Fischerstube, Rheingasse 45, Basel. CH-4058. Tel: 041 (0) 61 692 9200
Open: Monday-Thursday 10.00-14.00, 16.30-24.00; Friday 10.00-14.00, 16.30-01.00; Saturday 14.00-01.00; Sunday 14.00-23.00
Basel has an excellent tram network and the nearest stop is Rhinegasse. The following trams call there: 6, 8, 14, 15 and 17. It is also served by buses: 31, 34 and 38. Tram 6 comes direct from Basel SBB station.
Basel SBB is served by trains from all over Switzerland and other European countries, especially Germany and France, which both have regular interval services.
From the Rheingasse tram stop walk back towards the River Rhine bridge in the direction of the city. Turn first left into Rhinegasse and the pub is on the left about 250 metres along.